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March 24th, 2009 at 11:17 am

William Milam on the Importance of Economic Assistance for Pakistan

William Milam, former ambassador to Pakistan and author of Bangladesh and Pakistan: Flirting with Failure in South Asia, recently testified about Pakistan before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Milam was joined by Steven Coll, author of Ghost Wars, and others. The USCIRF has made available a full transcript of the testimony.

While the situation in Pakistan is still fraught with potential danger, Milam thinks the Obama administration is moving in the right direction on both the economic and military fronts:

First of all, it’s clear to me that the Obama administration is seeing and sees Pakistan through a slightly different lens than the previous administrations. And I use that in plural. Pakistan remains an ally and a very important ally of the United States. But I think our focus is changing from the kind of sort of more open kind of relationship we had to a much more—to a relationship which is much more focused on changing the Pakistani mindset if that’s possible, in terms of resisting the threat that really threatens their state and being able to meet that threat.

This has led, I think, to a different kind of view of our cooperation with Pakistan, particularly the mix of assistance we would be giving Pakistan. The military side, I think, is much more going to be much more focused on counterinsurgency operations and the equipment, as well as the training, that is needed by the Pakistani army to do that. And our assistance will be much more economic in nature, I think. I believe that the administration is going to triple economic assistance. And that would go, I think, both to shoring up the economy, which is in terrible shape, as well as, I hope, over the longer term, to providing some aid for social developments and particularly education, which the public education system as you know, is in a state of collapse.

Milam also highlighted the lawyers’ movement in Pakistan which according to Milam became “A whole symbol of the desire for judicial independence. And attached to that was a lot of sort of unspoken desire for social and economic progress from, shall we say, the lower elements, the lower echelons of Pakistani society. It caught on. It had a lot of public support. It in fact was, in a sense, an idea—ideas really—whose time had come. But come again, because they’ve been here before. And it was also an example of how – when civil society in Pakistan actually coalesces around something, it can be quite effective. And that’s fairly rare, actually.”

Milam spoke to the BBC about Pakistan and his testimony:

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